Many entrepreneurs start out with a dream. They imagine that they will just take that dream and sell it to someone in a simple exchange which leaves them rich, and their product in the market. Unfortunately, that is not how it works. All too often, you will hand out a good deal of money before you ever start bringing it in. There is good news, however! With the right information, you will soon be able to profit from your idea, in the right way, and watch your dreams come true!
As ReadWriteWeb explains, before you can begin to function with your new business, it is very important to understand the term “intellectual property.” Patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets are a few of these. Intellectual property literally means a product which came from someone’s idea. It is the dream which has been made reality. But of course, intellectual property is a bit harder to protect from theft than physical property is. That is why we have patents, trademarks, and copyrights. All of these serve the same purpose – protect the intellectual property – they just all do so in different ways.
A patent makes it illegal for anyone other than the inventor to produce, sell, import, or use the invention for up to twenty years unless they have written permission from the inventor. Inventors can use this time to make a profit from their idea by creating and marketing their product on an exclusive basis, or by licensing others to do so. Patents applications are often good only for the country in which they are issued. For instance, patents in America are given in to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, where they are reviewed. These patents are good in the US only. If you are issued a patent only to find out someone else already has a similar patent, your patent could be contested. By doing a complete prior art search, in which you search to make sure that your idea has not been patented, you can avoid this.
The patent law explains what kind of subject matter can be patented, and what conditions you must meet in order to get a patent. According to the statute, anyone who “invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent,” as long as they are in accordance with the law. The subject matter for the patent must be useful in some way. If a device which you are seeking a patent for does not work in a useful way, for example, then you will not be able to patent it. Patents will not be issued just for an idea or suggestion. You must have a complete description of your device, machine, etc before you can patent it, just a mere idea of the device or machine is not enough.
You also cannot acquire a patent for anything which has already been patented, or if, “(a) the invention was known or used by others in this country, or patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country, before the invention thereof by the applicant for patent,” or “(b) the invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country more than one year prior to the application for patent in the United States . . .”
You may seek one of three different types of patents.
- Utility patents can be granted to you if you have invented or discovered a new process, machine, article to manufacture, composition of matter, which is useful, or a new improvement on any of the above.
- Design patents are given to those who create new ornamental designs for articles of manufacture.
- Plant patents are given to those who invent or discover a plant species which can asexually reproduce.
While a patent offers protection against the production, sale, or use of an invention, a trademark protects names, words, sounds, symbols, and colors which are presented in a way to represent a product (such as the colors of well-known soft drink cans.) Unlike patents, trademarks can be used indefinitely, as long as the patented idea is still in use. It is the job of the United States Patent and Trademark Office to grant patents for inventions as well as register trademarks.
A trademark is considered to be a word, name, symbol or device which is used in business to identify the user and set them apart from other, similar businesses. It is used to prevent others from using the same name, symbol, word, or device that you use to identify your business, but it cannot stop others from replicating your idea or product.
Copyrights & Trade Secrets
Copyrights are different from patents and trademarks as they protect the written word for it’s author, as well as works of art. According to the United States Patent and Trade Office, “The 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work, to perform the copyrighted work publicly, or to display the copyrighted work publicly.” Copyrights last for seventy years past the death of the author.
Trade secrets are bits of information which is kept secret by a company so that competitors cannot produce very similar ones. The recipe for Coca Cola is a well known trade secret.
After reading this article, you should have a basic understanding of intellectual property and how it works. In our next issue, I will cover how patents will work for your inventions, and further explain how to get a patent for your idea. Be sure to look for it, you won’t want to miss this information!